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PHP is an open-source scripting language that’s widely used as many web developers’ server-side language of choice. The language has many advantages: the documentation is excellent, making it fairly easy to pick up for beginners; as a scripting language it’s quick and easy to write up and test your code; and it’s widely used, most notably perhaps in the WordPress content management system, so it’s great for job prospects. If you’re a PHP developer, here are some top tips to get the most out of your language.

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1) Clarify your requirements

How many times have you heard about someone spending hours on some code, and even have it turn out beautifully, only to realize that they’ve drifted away from the brief and all that time was wasted? Sometimes this is the programmer’s fault, misunderstanding what was required. Sometimes it’s the client’s fault, by not being clear enough about what they want. Either way, as the PHP programmer it’s your job to be crystal clear on your requirements before you get down to work. Liaise with the client or your project manager if there is even the slightest shred of doubt.

2) Start on paper

From smaller, simple scripts to larger, more involved projects, it can really help to get some paper and plan out your project. What pages are needed? What functions need to be built? What libraries are already a good fit for what you need? This exercise can also highlight potential areas of difficulty ahead of time. Another really important reason for planning and wireframing on paper is to get your ideas out of your head. If you don’t get it down on paper, you might forget a great feature you wanted to add, or perhaps by the time you remember it, it will be too difficult or time-consuming to integrate it into what you’ve already written.

3) Activate error reporting

When you start a new project, make it a habit to activate error reporting before you do anything else (besides clarify your requirements and write your plan, of course!). Just go into php.ini and set the first two lines as follows:

error_reporting ( E_ALL ) ;

ini_set ( ‘display_errors’ , 1 ) ;

Just as activating error reporting should be the first thing you do when you start, turning it off should be the last thing you do when you’re finished. Error reporting helps you identify and fix small mistakes that can increase your need for headache tablets exponentially if you don’t catch them early.

4) Know your POST from your GET

Only use GET for safe actions, and use POST for anything destructive or potentially destructive, like creation (because it’s possible to create something destructive!), editing and deletion. For example, imagine you use GET to delete. This means all a malicious user (or well-intending web crawler) would have to do is visit a URL like:

http://www.YourNewApp.com/admin/delete/1337

And what happens? Record 1337 just got deleted. Obviously, this is a huge security hole, so POST is more appropriate in this case.

5) Use output buffering

When output buffering is not activated, the HTML produced by your PHP script is passed to the browser piece-by-piece as your script is processed. When output buffering is activated, the HTML is sent to a variable. Only when PHP has fully processed your script is that variable sent to the browser. This has several advantages. Firstly, it speeds up the rendering of the HTML. Second, you can apply any function you’d normally use on a string to the HTML buffer variable. Third, it solves the “headers already sent error” that you may have experienced. To activate it, just make the first line of the script the following:

ob_start()

6) Set an execution time limit

Sooner or later, you’ll experience an infinite loop in a script — a loop in which the condition to break out of it is never met. If there is something heavy going on within the loop, such as accessing a database or some other calculation, it’s going to be a lot of work for your server. The solution is to set a shorter time limit on your script. You do this as follows:

set_time_limit(10);

This sets a 10-second limit. Just change the “10” to whatever you need

7) Use switch when the variable is a function

You shouldn’t get caught up over performance between switch and strings of elseifs. The difference is a matter of microseconds, so it’s just a matter of preference, as long as you’re only making an “==” comparison (switch doesn’t support any other comparisons). However, there is one time that switch is superior – where the variable part is actually calling a function. Observe:

if ( my_calculation() == 0)

echo “0”;

elseif ( my_calculation() == 1)

echo “1”;

elseif ( my_calculation() == 2)

echo “2”;

Here you’ve called my_calculation() three times. Now look at this one:

switch (my_calculation())

case 0:

echo “0”;

break;

case 1:

echo “1”;

break;

case 2:

echo “2”;

break;

Here, you’ve only called it once.

8) Move from file_get_contents() to cURL

While file_get_contents() is easy to use, you can’t customize it in any way. It basically just GETs or POSTs the file. It’s a simple tool which does the job when you have no concerns over things like the HTTP request method, the header, and redirects. And sometimes you don’t — so in those cases, take the simpler option. However, you should at least start getting to know cURL, if you haven’t been introduced to it yet. A number of options you can set with it is huge. It’s far more versatile, far more powerful, and many tests have shown it works a lot faster than file_get_contents(), too. So it’s definitely something you should have in your toolbox.

Get to work!

Remember that a developer’s journey is a continuous one — you should always be trying to improve your skills and increase your knowledge. This attitude will help you write better code, and ultimately get access to better-paying or more interesting jobs. Hopefully, you’ve picked up some handy hints and tips here that you can put to use in your projects!